PM Netanyahu's Remarks to the Sydney Jewish Community
(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, together with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy, today (Wednesday, 22 February 2017), at the Sydney Central Synagogue, attended an event with hundreds of members of the Jewish community.
Prime Minister Netanyahu:
I want to bring all of you greetings from Jerusalem, our eternal capital, never to be divided again.
I want to thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the extraordinary welcome that he and his wife Lucy have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. There is no better friend for the State of Israel.
But he's had some standard-bearers before him and that's John Howard and Tony Abbott, former Prime Ministers, who are with us today. Premier Berejiklian, I have had a lot of people stutter at my name for a while but I hope I pronounce your name correctly; and all the representatives and officials who are here, our respective ambassadors; Mark Leibler, Danny Lamm, I want to thank you for your many kindnesses over the years, your friendship. It's an honor to be the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia. I have to say that I hope the next trip doesn't take another 68 years. I agree completely with Malcolm Turnbull that people-to-people contacts, that the ability to meet, see each other, hear each other, talk to one another is crucial, and for this we need a Dreamliner and I'll say it five more times before I leave because you in Australia are used to flying in your own country for several hours. It takes four minutes to cross the State of Israel so we're not used to it. A Dreamliner would help us acclimate.
I want to salute this Jewish community, which is unusually committed to the State of Israel, to the Jewish people. You've shown it time and time again, you show it here today even though I think we'll have some problem with the Jewish community in Melbourne, but that's for the next trip, for the next trip. They're wonderful people and you have been stalwart champions of our alliance. Israel and Australia are two vibrant democracies. This is not something that is self-evident. Democracy has to be nourished; it has to be protected; it has to be maintained. In the 19th century, the great English writer George Eliot wrote, "There will be…" she said, "…in the van of the [Middle] East… amid the despotisms of the East… a great beacon of freedom." A great beacon of freedom, she said prophetically. And indeed this is exactly what has happened. Israel is a beacon of freedom, of tolerance, of progress in a very dark expanse that I hope and I believe will change as many Arab countries understand that Israel is not their enemy, but their vital and indispensable ally in warding off the barbarism that threatens all of us.
There is, I think, an opening, as Malcolm and I discussed, for the first time in my lifetime, because the Arabs understand that Israel could be a key to their future. I'm not looking at reality through rose-colored glasses. I'm, I think, a realist but as a realist, I see not only challenge but opportunity that grows from this challenge. And I think that if anyone understands the hopes of the people of Israel for peace and security it is you. You have shared this hope and this dream with us day in, day out. And you have this strong bond with Israel. You have relatives and you have friends, I have friends and relatives here, believe it or not. And you have them in Israel in abundance, so I want to thank you for your consistent support over the years.
A few days ago I visited the Jewish community in Singapore. There's a Jewish community in Singapore. And like the joke, they have two synagogues – one they go to and the one they don't go to. An amazing community. And a few months ago, I visited Jews in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, two Muslim countries. They sang Jewish songs in Muslim countries and that's the kind of coexistence and tolerance that we'd like to see everywhere. Jewish customs vary but the spirit of our people is universal and there's a question that many people ask: "Why did the Jews survive? What is the secret of their survival and their success?" Well, I had an inkling of that when I was first elected Prime Minister and I visited a small country, China. And the President of China, the leader of China at the time, Jiang Zemin, he said to me: "You know, I really admire the Jewish people." And I said, "I really admire the Chinese people." And he said, "Well, the Jews and the Chinese are two of the oldest peoples on Earth." And I said, "That's true." And being not that experienced, I added the Indians too, but, you know, it goes back 5,000 years, in our case almost 4,000 years. And he said, "Yes, this is true." And I said, "But there is a difference." He said, "What's the difference?" I said, "Well, how many Chinese are there?" He said, "Well, 1.2 billion." And I said, "How many Indians?" He said, "About one billion." And then I said, "How many Jews?" And he said, "I don’t know." I said, "Well, there are about 13 million Jews at the time, 13 million Jews." And there was absolute silence in the room, you could hear the jaws drop because that's, you know, a suburb of Beijing. And I said, "Mr. President, isn't it odd? We've been around for thousands of years; you exceed a billion and we're only 13 million." He said, "What happened?" And I said, "A lot of things happened." But they boiled down to one thing. You, the Chinese, have kept China. The Indians kept India. And we, the Jewish people, lost our land and were scattered to the far corners of the Earth. And for the last 2,000 years, we've had one goal: To come back to our ancient homeland and reconstitute our life, build our own state, define our own future, control our own destiny.
This is the source, this is the thrust of Jewish history.
Now, by all accounts we should have disappeared, because most nations in antiquity do not exist anymore. There are exceptions, but they're very large exceptions and very few. Most nations disappeared. Nations go through predictable cycles: they're born, they flower, they shrivel, they die. But the Jews are different. The Jews refused to die. They're reborn again and again and again. And throughout the centuries, our people never succumbed to their fate, no matter how large the oppression, no matter how great the oppression and the persecution. Generation after generation, Jews said, "Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem." We never gave up the dream.
And finally, after 20 centuries, led by a modern Moses named Theodore Herzl – changed our history, a prophet of old reemerged and worked for a brief eight years and changed the course of the Jewish people. We came back to our land, reconstituted our sovereignty; built an army second-to-none in its courage, its ability to defend our people, its willingness to step into the breach; built an economy that is now becoming an innovation nation, an example for the entire world.
And you know, there used to be a joke when I was a young man in Israel, growing up: How do you make a small fortune in Israel? You start with a big fortune. No longer. Some big fortunes are made in Israel, because of the ingenuity of our people. And guess what? We liberated the economy and allowed the natural enterprise, the natural capabilities that are inherent in our history, in our traditions, to burst forward. So we've built this future and I was approached by African diplomats in the UN a few months ago. You know, I give this speech at the UN every year, but this year was different because so many of the African countries want to partake of our experiences, of our innovation, and we had an exhibit there of Israeli technology – absolutely amazing, amazing stuff. And one African leader said to me, "Can you tell me? Can you tell me the secret?" He wanted to know the secret. And I said, "You mean the secret of our success?" And he said, "I want to understand how Israel is able to do what it does." And I said, "Look, it's a combination of two things: a continual quest for the future with a deep regard for the past, a deep regard for our roots. It's like a tree that has deep roots in the land and yet seeks to grow the branches all the time, reaches upward." And it's that combination of tradition and innovation that makes Israel what it is, and make the people of Israel what they are. And make you the community that you are.
We respect our traditions, we respect our roots, and yet we are constantly inquisitive, constantly seeking to improve the life of our people and the life of all mankind. This is what characterizes the Jewish people; this is what characterizes the Jewish state.
Now, I know that we are much maligned in the United Nations. I salute you, Malcolm Turnbull, and the governments of Australia who have stood up time and time again against this demonization, including recently. You brook no, you refuse to accept this hypocrisy. And standing up for Israel means standing up for simple truths. It doesn't mean that we don't have our imperfections. Which country is perfect? Well, Australia is pretty close, but none of us are perfect. But we seek all the time to improve. We seek all the time to do better. We seek to do better for all our peoples and we also want Israel to be the home of all Jews. I want every Jew in the world, every Jewish man and woman, to feel comfortable in the State of Israel.
I also think that we have a battle against those who seek to demonize our people and the resurgent anti-Semitism that we see in many parts of the world. It is something that we need to fight together. I think this is important in Europe. It's important in America. It's very important that President Trump took a strong stand against anti-Semitism. And it's important that we all continue to do so in the years ahead.
So we have performed miracles, but we have performed miracles because we're committed to our destiny. I want all of you to come to Israel. I want you to visit your friends and your families. I want you to walk the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, hike in the Golan. By the way, the Golan will never go back to Syria. It will always be a part of the State of Israel. Spend time with our brave young soldiers. Get to know the land. See this miracle. See the Land of Israel. See the people of Israel.The State of Israel lives. The people of Israel thrive. Am Yisrael Chai.
We are part of you; you are part of us. Thank you for this warm welcome, and this year in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Turnbull in Be'er Sheva. We'll get a horse for every one of you. Thank you very much, thank you."